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Andrew Curson

Senior Post-doctoral Research Associate, University of East Anglia

DMSP synthesis in phytoplankton unravelled

Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (helpfully abbreviated to DMSP) is produced in huge quantities (estimated over 1 billion tonnes per year) by marine phytoplankton, seaweeds, corals and, as we recently found, bacteria as well. The precise function of DMSP in the organisms that produce it is not known although roles including osmoprotection, cryoprotection, oxidative stress protection, predator deterrence and removal of excess sulfur have been suggested. Once outside the cell, the sheer amount of carbon and sulfur available from this molecule make it a key nutrient, and many microorganisms in the marine environment have taken full advantage of this. Many of these microorganisms break down DMSP into the gas dimethylsulfide (DMS). DMS is a key player in the global sulfur cycle and has potential links to climate through its role in cloud formation over the oceans. DMS is sometimes referred to as the ‘smell of the seaside’ for the fact that this highly odorous gas is a major part of the smell we encounter when we visit the beach, but importantly it is also detectable by animals, such as seabirds and seals, which may use it to locate their food.
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Feb 26, 2018